School of Politics and International Studies

Responsibility to Protect Student Journal

Volume 2, Issue No. 1

Dear reader,

We are delighted to introduce both the third issue of the Responsibility to Protect Student Journal and a new partnership with STAND: The Student-Led Movement to End Mass Atrocities, a youth-managed advocacy organisation working on issues of genocide and mass atrocity prevention worldwide.

Collaborating with other student groups allows us to further our own mission and develop this space for youth to produce valuable work and contribute to essential conversations about responses to mass atrocities. Through this collaboration, the R2P Student Journal broadened its scope to include atrocity prevention and peacebuilding-themed contributions. With this partnership, we have enlarged the Journal’s audience and number of potential collaborators while enabling STAND and other like-minded advocacy organisations to inform their forthcoming policies and campaigns with accurate research.

We have received more contributions than ever before and chosen six excellent student essays on mass atrocity prevention and R2P to present in this issue, focussing on themes such as the US Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act, the Women, Peace and Security Agenda, R2P in Mali, Yemen, and the normative status of R2P.

We start this issue with a piece written by Dr Simon Adams, Director Executive of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, who makes the case for tackling international trade arms as one important aspect on the mass atrocity prevention agenda. History has taught us that there is a connection between the proliferation of small arms and the risk of mass atrocity crimes occurring; this is why practical initiatives that hinder perpetrators from accessing lethal weapons, such as the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), is so crucial in helping states act responsibly. However, as Adams reminds us, while the ATT may act as a force in the advancement of R2P, there is still some way to go while four of the five biggest exporters of arms in the world are mandated with the task of maintaining international peace and security as permanent members of the UN Security Council.

In her article on the proposed U.S. Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act, Francesca Freeman analyses the bill’s chance of being passed through Congress when it was introduced in early 2016. Encouraging activists to be mindful of what went wrong, she expresses hope for the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act, which is expected to be introduced in the Senate in mid-2017.

Katie Gabriel’s article analyses the short and long-term contributions of international assistance in Mali, where R2P Pillar II was invoked in 2012 to assist the Malian government during the crisis. While Gabriel identifies a wide range of action taken by international and regional actors, noting its success, she questions whether R2P should be addressing underlying issues, fearing that it stretches the principle too far beyond its original focus of responding to the four mass atrocity crimes.

In his article on the R2P in Africa, Luc Hinson analyses the normative progress of the principle, showing how the African Union is taking steps to internalise and implement it, while at the same time contesting some of its content. In this respect, he argues that this is a sign that R2P is developing normatively, and outlines the role of regional organisations in its progress in the decade to come.

Melly Hu’s article discusses the polysemous interpretation of the R2P principle, which ultimately gives way for states to exploit the doctrine to their best interest, as Saudi Arabia is doing with regards to Yemen – which links well with Nikita Sinclair analysis on R2P’s normative status.

In this issue we also welcome our first article on the Women Peace and Security Agenda, with an excellent contribution from Joshua Ellis, who argues that Resolution 1325 fails to adequately address the gendered dimensions of conflict on account of its narrow definitions of security and rape, its failure to address gendered dimensions of pre-conflict militarisation, and its enervating progress at generating equality for women during peace.

We hope you will find this issue interesting and may it inspire your own advocacy and work.

The Editorial Team


  • The AK-47, the Responsibility to Protect and the Arms Trade Treaty

    When we think of the Holocaust our mind slips inexorably towards dismal images of cattle cars stuffed with people, or to gas chambers, crematoria and the cruel irony of the “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate. But of the six million Jews killed during the Holocaust over a million were shot with rifles and other small arms. They were not killed in concentration camps, but were murdered in fields or forests and pitched into mass graves hastily dug outside villages in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe. Before Auschwitz, Sobibor or Treblinka, the Holocaust began with bullets. The same is true of most mass atrocity crimes carried out since 1945. From the killing fields of Cambodia to the mass graves of Srebrenica and the burnt villages of Darfur, most of the killing was done with rifles and other small arms. It is for this reason that there is an enduring connection between preventing mass atrocities and confronting the international arms trade.

  • #EasyAsAPB? The Chances of Survival of the Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act

    On April 24, 1915, the Turkish government began to expel and massacre Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. 1.5 million people were murdered. On April 6, 1994, Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana's plane was shot down and Hutu militias began moving around Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, killing moderate politicians and journalists deemed a threat to Hutu power. Within a few hours of Habyarimana's death, the genocide against the Tutsi people in Rwanda had begun and 1 million people were killed in the following 100 days. In July 1995, Serb forces attacked the besieged town of Srebrenica and, over the next ten days, killed 8,000 Muslim Bosniak men. In light of these horrific events, as well as the other countless genocides throughout the 20th century and early 21st century, theorists and policymakers alike have acknowledged the necessity for the US government to develop a strategic and comprehensive approach to genocide and atrocities prevention. Thus, in 2016, several U.S. senators, led by Senators Ben Cardin and Thom Tillis, introduced the Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act. While the bill did not ultimately pass through Congress, the policies in the bill had significant potential for implementation under John Kingdon’s criteria for survival.

  • Pillar II in Mali: Endless Interference or Making a Difference?

    In March 2012, a military coup took place against the Malian government, resulting in the formation of a transitional government. In the midst of such political instability, the ethnic Tuareg separatist group, the National Movement for Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), seized the Northern part of Mali (Global Centre for R2P, 2013, p. 11). They were followed by a number of armed Islamist groups, who then side-lined the MNLA. These groups have been accused of committing offenses listed under the R2P, which covers four crimes: genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

  • The Responsibility to Protect in Africa: Normative Progress or Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing?

    The Responsibility to Protect (hereafter R2P) is a concept heavily contested by a range of scholars including sceptics such as Hehir and Reinhold. For Hehir and Reinhold, the progress it represents is illusionary; by failing to change international law and order it is a continuation of the status-quo. They state that the current form of RtoP has not changed the powers of the UN Security Council (hereafter UNSC), nor has it ascribed any “new competencies or procedural laws” (Hehir, 2013, p. 152). To dispute these claims, I will call upon arguments of varying levels of advocacy including Bellamy, Ralph, Gallagher, Thakur, Welsh and Williams, and dispel the three challenges of R2P being ‘business as usual’, a “permanency of inconsistency” (Hehir, 2013) and “sound and fury signifying nothing” (2010), whilst acknowledging the limitations of R2P. A further acknowledgement of the limitations of the word count of this essay explains the focus on exclusively sceptics and advocates. In addition to using the arguments preponed by advocates of the RtoP this essay will focus on the role of the African Union (hereafter AU) in implementing and contesting RtoP, and demonstrating how, to this continent R2P represents anything but progress.

  • Shortcomings of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’: An Analysis of the Saudi-led Coalition Intervention in Yemen

    The Yemeni Civil War began in 2015 between the Houthi rebel movement forces seeking to reinstate former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the government forces of current President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. The deadly crisis has since affected millions of Yemenis who are currently facing a humanitarian disaster in the war-torn country. When the Saudi-led coalition was formed that same year, the prospect of an international intervention was welcomed in the hope of ending the civil conflict and stabilising the country. Now, more than a year on from the coalition’s first air campaign, Yemen is in an increasingly worsening state, with millions of civilians either displaced or in desperate need of humanitarian assistance (GCR2P, 2017). To blindly accept Riyadh’s actions as R2P activism is optimistic, if not naïve. Although the concept of R2P is encouraging progress towards improving human protection, the international intervention in Yemen calls into question R2P’s infallibility from misuse.

  • Challenging the Establishment: A discussion regarding the normative status of the Responsibility to Protect

    Focusing on norms as “an aspiration for a new reality” (Ralph and Souter 2015, p. 68), the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) appears established, as the “normative aspiration” it represents is almost universally accepted (Ralph and Souter 2015, p. 68). Characterised as “a disarmingly simple idea”, R2P aims to embed the notion that “sovereign states have a responsibility to protect their own populations” from the four atrocity crimes of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity, advocating that this responsibility must be upheld by the international community if a state can or will not fulfil this duty (Bellamy, 2015, p. 2). With widespread support for the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document (WSOD) and continued commitment demonstrated through annual UN General Assembly debates, the suggestion that R2P is an “established ideal” seems robust (Evans, 2016). However, when considering R2P as a norm indicating “an existing social reality” (Ralph and Souter, 2015, p.68), there is far more contestation. Like much of the academic literature (Badescu and Weiss, 2010; Knight, 2011; Negrón-Gonzales and Contarino, 2014; Shawki, 2011), this essay focuses on this second concept. According to Finnemore and Sikkink’s (1998, p. 904) influential Norm Life Cycle theory, an established norm would exhibit third stage internalisation, demonstrated by the habitual adherence of actors. Dominant debates within the literature characterise R2P as an emerging norm between stage one (emergence) and two (cascade) of the Norm Life Cycle, hence suggesting R2P has not yet reached the status of established norm; automatic conformity appears a distant aspiration.

  • Gendered Dimensions of Conflict and Peace: Assessing the effectiveness of UNSCR 1325

    The unanimous adoption of United Nations Security Resolution 1325 (henceforth UNSC 1325) in 2000 provided the foundation for the international Women, Peace and Security Agenda (George and Shepherd 2016, pp. 297-306). Since then, eight further resolutions have reinforced this agenda, addressing gender-based violence in conflict and calling for increased participation of women in peace processes. UNSC 1325 is therefore seen by its supporters as a turning point, or “watershed” moment (Anderlini, 2010) in the relationship between the expectations of civil society (especially women’s organisations) and the actions of the international system, particularly the Security Council. Moreover, UNSC 1325 created awareness of the normative framework that governs issues pertaining to women, peace and security. Many in fact view this as its greatest success. However, by taking a sequential view of the stages of conflict – from pre-conflict setting through to the peace process – it will become clear that UNSC 1325 has not adequately addressed the gendered dimensions of conflict. Rather, it has failed in three key areas: pre-conflict and the militarisation of society, during conflict itself, and in peace processes. Given the resolution’s four pillars of prevention, participation, protection and peacebuilding (George and Shepherd, 2016), this failure amounts to a serious criticism of the resolution. In this sense, in order to assess adequacy this essay will identify the failure of the resolution to achieve these stated goals. We shall see that this failure has been encouraged, and at times exacerbated by a series of conceptual flaws. The first section of the essay highlights the failure of UNSC 1325 to address the pre-conflict stage. Gendered issues that stem from the militarisation of society pose a security threat to both men and women, and the failure of the resolution to take this period into account limits the scope of the resolution. The second section focuses on the conflict stage itself. The narrow definitions adopted by the resolution along with its strong liberal flavouring have seriously weakened UNSC 1325’s ability to address issues of sexual violence during conflict and the basic rights of women. The final section, on the peace process setting, highlights some of the achievements of the resolution in increasing female participation in peace negotiations. However, it notes that these improvements have been somewhat limited, and are often void of significant meaning.


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